Remembering Engineering’s first PhD graduate

Carl Turkstra funded Waterloo’s Turkstra Chair in Urban Engineering

By Carol Truemner Faculty of Engineering

Carl Turkstra, (PhD ’63, civil engineering) died May 22 after a distinguished career as an academic who transformed building codes followed by one as a successful business owner.  

When Turkstra joined the Faculty’s newly launched PhD program in the late 1950s, building codes aimed to achieve absolute safety.

Turkstra proposed a radical alternative in his doctoral research work: apply risk analysis instead.

Doug Wright, then-president of the University of Waterloo, ensured Turkstra’s resulting thesis landed on all the right desks, paving the way to an illustrious academic career that spanned three countries and two decades.

Turkstra, who was awarded Waterloo Engineering’s first doctorate, twice earned the American Society of Civil Engineering’s State of the Art Award, helped to transform building codes around the world and developed what is now known as Turkstra’s Rule for load construction in structural design.

His academic achievements were recognized in 1997 with Waterloo Engineering’s Alumni Achievement Medal for Academic Excellence.

In 1989, he gave up his academic career to take over his family’s Hamilton-based lumber business.

"He cared passionately about the employees at Turkstra Lumber and was instrumental in introducing benefits and a pension plan that was, at the time, unheard of in the retail lumber industry," his obituary reads. "Over the next two decades, he grew it into one of Canada’s largest lumberyards for building contractors."

In his retirement, Turkstra launched three philanthropic foundations. The Turkstra Foundation focuses on disaster relief; Your Canada, Your Constitution advocates for political reform; and the Incite Foundation supports the arts in Hamilton, ON.

"I can’t sing or dance or any of that stuff, but I understand how important arts and culture are," Turkstra said in a 2017 interview.

Nor did he forget his first calling. In 2017, he began working with Waterloo Engineering to fund an endowed chair and graduate program in urban engineering.  The Turkstra Chair in Urban Engineering is currently held by Nadine Ibrahim, a civil and environmental engineering lecturer.

An urban engineering speaker series named for Turkstra was launched by Waterloo Engineering in 2019.

Turkstra is survived by his wife, Kate, son Peter (Karen Turkstra), daughter Jennifer Turkstra (Matthew Soar) and four grandchildren.

"Always the engineer, he asked that his ashes be spread at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge," his obituary reads. "Second only to his love for his wife, he loved his engineering ring."

Main photo is of  Nadine Ibrahim, left, and Carl Turkstra

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